COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS CONCLUDES FIFTY-EIGHTH SESSION



Releases Conclusions on Reports of the Czech Republic, Ireland, Benin, the United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago

(ROUND UP RELEASE) -- The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today a three-week spring session, adopting its conclusions and recommendations on reports of the Czech Republic, Ireland, Benin, the United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago.
The five countries are among the 145 States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and are required to submit periodic reports to the Committee on efforts to implement the provisions of the treaty, which entered into force in 1976.
Among positive developments in the Czech Republic, the Committee welcomed enactment of a number of laws and legislative reforms intended to promote economic, social and cultural rights. It expressed concern that the Covenant had not been given full effect in the country's legal order and that most of the Covenant's rights were not justiciable in domestic courts; and said it was deeply concerned about a high level of discrimination against Roma in employment, housing and education. The Committee recommended, among other things, that the Czech Republic adopt a national plan of action for human rights and that it create national human rights institution.
Among positive aspects to the report of Ireland, the Committee cited the establishment of an Equality Authority and the entry into force of an Equal Status Act; and legislative measures taken to combat domestic violence and to eradicate corporal punishment in schools. It remarked among matters of concern that no steps had been taken to incorporate the Covenant into domestic legislation; and that the national Human Rights Commission was not yet operational. Among the Committee's recommendations were that Ireland incorporate economic, social and cultural rights into the proposed amendments to the Constitution in order to make them justiciable.
Responding to the initial report of Benin, the Committee welcomed among positive factors the adoption of a 1990 Constitution partly devoted to human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. The Committee said it was concerned, among other things, that there were no specific laws guaranteeing the rights under the Covenant; and that there was a grave problem of poverty in the country despite positive economic growth since 1995. Among its recommendations were that poverty-reduction efforts be intensified and further measures be taken to guarantee equality between men and women.
Among positive aspects to the report of the United Kingdom, which included coverage of situations in its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, the Committee noted enactment ofa Human Rights Act (1989)and the adoption of new cell standards in prisons which had reduced overcrowding by 50 per cent. Among matters of concern the Committee remarked that the Covenant had not still been incorporated into the domestic legal order of the United Kingdom and that there was no intention by the State party to do so in the near future. It recommended, among other things, that more effective steps be taken to combat de facto discrimination, in particular against ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, especially in relation to employment, housing and education.
The Committee termed positive in the report of Trinidad and Tobago, among other things, the establishment of Human Rights and Domestic Violence Units and the introduction of free secondary education for all. Concern was expressed, among other things, that there were high rates of domestic and sexual violence, excessive use of force by the police, and a persistent, generalized "culture of violence" in the country. Among the Committee's recommendations were that the country formulate and implement a comprehensive national plan of action for the protection and promotion of human rights and that effective measures be taken to eliminate discrimination.
Also during the session, the Committee held a day of general discussion on the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights, stipulated in article 3 of the Covenant. The discussion was a prelude to the Committee's intention to draft a general comment on the issue to be adopted in a year's time. In addition to the inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, two Experts from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) participated in the discussion.
The Committee also discussed follow-up to its day of general discussion on the right to education and to the World Education Forum organized in cooperation with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The discussion emphasized the need for States parties to declare and provide free and compulsory education under the Dakar Framework for Action, which recommended legislative measures to bind States parties to the right to education.
The next session of the Committee will be held from 11 to 29 November 2002, in Geneva. The panel is expected to consider reports of the Slovak Republic, Poland, Georgia, the Solomon Islands, Estonia, and Greece.
Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Country Reports
The Czech Republic
Among positive aspects to the initial report of the Czech Republic, the Committee welcomed the enactment of a number of laws as well as legislative reforms undertaken for the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights; the establishment of the Council for Human Rights and the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Rights; and it noted with appreciation the cooperation of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report. The Committee noted that the State party had encountered difficulties in the implementation of the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Covenant because of its transition to a market-oriented economy.
Among subjects of concern, the Committee noted that the Covenant had not been given full effect in the State party's legal order and that most of the Covenant's rights were not justiciable in domestic law, in particular the right to adequate housing, which the State party considered as merely a declaratory non-entitlement right; it regretted the absence of a national plan of action for human rights; it remarked that the inadequacy of social safety nets during the restructuring and privatization process had negatively affected the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights; and said it was deeply concerned about the high level of discrimination against Roma in the fields of employment, housing and education. The Committee noted concern over domestic violence; an increasing rate of trafficking in women; sexual exploitation of children; a high rate of drug and tobacco use as well as the level of alcohol consumption; and over-representation of Roma children in so-called "special schools".
The Committee recommended, among other things, that the State party take appropriate steps to give full effect to the Covenant in its legal system; that it adopt a national plan of action for human rights and create a national human rights institution; that it ratify remaining International Labour Office (ILO) conventions relevant to economic, social and cultural rights; that it take effective action to reduce the unemployment rate; that it re-examine minimum-wage levels in order to secure a decent standard of living for all workers; that it adopt effective measures against trafficking in women against the sexual exploitation of children; that it devise a comprehensive plan to combat homelessness; that it adopt effective measures to ensure more appropriate living conditions for persons with disabilities; that it reduce tobacco smoking, drug abuse and alcohol consumption, especially among children; that it take immediate and effective measures to eliminate discrimination against Roma children by removing them from "special schools"; that it comply with international guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights; that it adopt a comprehensive national health strategy; and that it consider increasing its budget allocation for education.
Ireland
The Committee noted among positive aspects to Ireland's second periodic report the establishment of an Equality Authority and the entry into force of an Equal Status Act; the establishment of a national Human Rights Commission; the adoption of legislative measures to combat domestic violence and to eradicate corporal punishment in schools; the continuing decline in the unemployment rate since the consideration of the State party's initial report; the introduction of a minimum wage; and the revision of the country's National Anti-Poverty Strategy.
The Committee expressed concern that no steps had been taken to incorporate the Covenant into domestic legislation; that the Human Rights Commission was not yet operational; that the country's Disability Bill did not have a human rights-based approach; that there was persistent discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities; that there were inadequate the minimum wage and welfare payment levels; and that there were continued impediments imposed by the State party with respect to obtaining collective bargaining licences for trade unions.
The Committee recommended, among other things, that Ireland incorporate economic, social and cultural rights into proposed amendments to the Constitution to make them justiciable; that a thorough review of sheltered workshops for the disabled be conducted and completed and adoption of measures be considered that would allow people with disabilities to work with full employment status; that trade union rights to conduct collective bargaining be adequately protected in law and status; that the State party ensure that the Combat Poverty Agency was well-resourced and able to fulfil its statuary advisory functions; that social housing programmes be accelerated to reduce the waiting time for social housing; that the State revisit the recently published National Health Strategy with a view to embracing a human rights framework in that strategy; that the State party speed up the process of transferring persons with mental disabilities who were not suffering from serious psychiatric illness to more appropriate care settings -- a reiteration of a recommendation made in 1999; and that it enact legislation that would extend the Constitutional right to free primary education to all adults with special educational needs.
Benin
Among positive aspects to the initial report of Benin the Committee cited adoption of the 1990 Constitution, which was partly devoted to human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights; the invitation extended to the Committee to visit the country and to observe the measures taken to implement the Covenant; and the progress achieved by Benin in cooperation with specialized agencies of the United Nations.
Among factors and difficulties impeding implementation of the Covenant, the Committee noted persistent economic problems attributed partly to the less diversified economic structure of the country, to the strictures of Benin's structural adjustment programme, and to the demands of external debt servicing. It also noted that certain traditions, customs and cultural practices, particularly contained in the 1931 customary code of Dahomey, were sources of discrimination against women and girls, and that these had impeded the full enjoyment of the rights recognized under the Covenant.
Among subjects of concern, the Committee cited the lack of specific laws guaranteeing the rights under the Covenant; the grave problem of poverty which afflicted the country despite positive economic growth since 1995; continuing discrimination against women, despite Constitutional provisions declaring equality between men and women; inadequate measures to abolish female genital mutilation; the high number of street children; the practice of placing children in service with other families; the lack of sensitization on matters of sexual and reproductive health; and disparities in living standards between rural and urban populations.
The Committee recommended among other things that the State party commit itself to ensuring that the provisions of the Covenant were taken into consideration in the implementation of measures concerning economic, social and cultural rights; that poverty-reduction efforts be intensified; that further measures be taken to guarantee equality between men and women; that further efforts be made to eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation by taking legal measures to criminalize the act; that measures be adopted to reduce the rate of unemployment; that child labour be effectively monitored and that those enterprises that employed children be sanctioned; that measures be taken to integrate street children into society and into schools; that measures be taken to reduce disparities in living standards between rural and urban populations; and that primary education be made free and compulsory.
The United Kingdom
Among positive aspects to the fourth periodic report of the United Kingdom and its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, the Committee noted enactment of a national Human Rights Act (1989); establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; various measures undertaken by the State party since consideration of its third periodic report; and adoption of new cell standards in prisons which had led to a 50 per cent reduction in overcrowding of cells.
Among matters of concern, the Committee noted that, although the State party had adopted a certain number of laws in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, the Covenant still had not been incorporated into the domestic legal order and there was no intention by the State party to do so in the near future; that the State party had not yet prepared a national human rights plan of action; that human rights education programmes did not give adequate attention to economic, social and cultural rights; that poor quality housing and "fuel poverty" continued to be a problem for a large number of families and individuals; that the incidence of domestic violence had increased in recent years; and that there was a high incidence of HIV/AIDS in some of the State party's Caribbean territories.
The Committee recommended, among other things -- and reiterating previous recommendations -- that the State party re-examine the matter of incorporation of the Covenant into domestic law; that the United Kingdom prepare a national human rights plan of action; that it establish a national human rights commission for England, Wales and Scotland; that more effective steps be taken to combat de facto discrimination, in particular against ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, especially in relation to employment, housing and education; that the State party ensure that the level of the national minimum wage was determined with due regard to the requirements of an adequate standard of living; that efforts to combat domestic violence be continued; that the problem of poverty and social exclusion be addressed as a matter of high priority; that efforts to combat homelessness be focused on those groups in society which were disproportionately affected; that immediate measures be taken to improve the situation of the large number of families and individuals who lived in poor housing conditions; and that effective measures be taken to ensure that the introduction of university tuition fees and student loans did not impact negatively upon students from less privileged backgrounds.
Trinidad and Tobago
Among positive aspects of the report, the Committee welcomed the establishment of a Human Rights Unit; the adoption of legislation relating to economic, social and cultural rights during the last five years; the ratification of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereto; the establishment of a Domestic Violence Unit; and the introduction of free secondary education for all.
The Committee said it was concerned, among other things, that the State party had not incorporated the Covenant into the domestic legal order; that it had not yet formulated a comprehensive plan of action on human rights; that it had not ratified a number of ILO Conventions relevant to economic, social and cultural rights and that it had denounced various human rights instruments; that there was a lack of specific and comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation; that there was a lack of facilities for persons with disabilities; that women earned less than men for work of equal value; and that there were high rates of domestic and sexual violence, excessive use of force by the police, and a persistent, generalized "culture of violence" in the country.
The Committee recommended, among other things, that the State party formulate and implement a comprehensive national plan of action for the protection and promotion of human rights; that country's Ombudsman be given powers to deal with all human rights issues; that legislative and other effective measures be taken to eliminate discrimination; that legislation preventing workers from striking be reviewed in view of the State party's international commitments; that the State party ratify ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour; that effective measures be taken to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women; that the State party step up measures to combat HIV/AIDS; that specific legislation be enacted and necessary measures be adopted to improve the living conditions of prisoners and detainees; and that a housing strategy for disadvantaged and marginalized groups be devised.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The General Assembly adopted and opened the Covenant for signature, ratification and accession in 1966. It entered into force on 3 January 1976.
Article 1 of the Covenant states that the right to self-determination is universal and calls upon States to promote the realization and respect of that right. Article 3 reaffirms the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all human rights and enjoins States to make that principle a reality. Article 5 provides safeguards against the destruction or undue limitation of any human right or fundamental freedom, and against misinterpretation of any provision of the Covenant as a means of justifying infringement of a right or freedom or its restriction to a greater extent than provided in the Covenant. It also prevents States from limiting rights already enjoyed within their territories on the ground that such rights are not recognized, or recognized to a lesser extent, in the Covenant.
Articles 6 to 15 recognize the right to work; to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work; to form and join trade unions; to social security, including social insurance; to the widest possible protection and assistance for the family, mothers, children and younger persons; to an adequate standard of living; to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to an education and to take part in cultural life.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Economic and Social Council established the Committee in 1985. Elected by the Economic and Social Council by secret ballot from a list of persons nominated by State parties to the Covenant, its 18 members are human-rights experts serving in their personal capacity.
The Committee is composed of the following Experts: Mahmoud Samir Ahmed (Egypt),
Clement Atangana (Cameroon), Rocio Barahona Riera (Costa Rica), Virginia Bonoan-Dandan (Philippines), Dumitru Ceausu (Romania), Abdessatar Grissa (Tunisia), Paul Hunt (New Zealand), Valeri I. Kouznetsov (the Russian Federation), Giorgio Malinverni (Switzerland), Jaime Marchán Romero (Ecuador), Sergei Martynov (Belarus), Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay (Mauritius), Kenneth Osborne Rattray (Jamaica), Eibe Riedel (Germany), Walid M. Sa'di (Jordan), Philippe Texier (France), Nutan Thapalia (Nepal), and Javier Wimer Zambrano (Mexico).
States Parties to the Covenant
The Covenant has been ratified or acceded to by 145 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.